By Dr. E. Kirsten Peters
This is the time of year to get outdoors and observe Mother Nature in all her glory. With a simple field guide to trees or birds and a Sunday afternoon trip to a local park, you can play amateur scientist and immerse yourself in forces larger than those we humans create.
A friend and I are making plans for an extended road trip to two national parks in southwest Utah. We will spend two or three days in Bryce Canyon National Park and a day touring Zion. We won’t go until the end of September, though, after the heat of summer in Utah has passed. The days will be shorter then, of course, but, in some ways, the sunlight is all the more sweet as the evenings draw in closer and earlier.
The last time I was in rural Utah and Nevada I was driving by myself and towing a 1972 travel trailer that was as small as it was ratty. The trip is seared in my mind in part because I had trouble with tires blowing out when I was in the middle of nowhere. When the first one blew, I wasn’t too distressed about it. I just put on my spare and loaded the shredded tire into my aging vehicle. But I well remember the stress of losing the second tire before I had reached a town big enough to have a supply of tires to fit my vehicle. It took some doing and the help of strangers to get me back to civilization where I could buy what I needed to continue the trip.
This time around I have new tires on my vehicle (what a concept!) and two spares. One is the little “donut” that came with my car when I bought it and the second is a real spare on a wheel I purchased. I have tied that spare to the top of the vehicle, “safari” style.
Planning a road trip can be half the fun, and my friend and I are well into that part of the experience. I called a tourist bureau in Utah and got some maps and materials about Bryce and Zion. Another friend gave us a book full of glossy pictures about the national parks of Utah. The book discusses both the geologic history of the area and early human history, too.
Us geologists are fond of the southwest because it’s easy to see the rocks of the area. In wetter parts of the country, soil and plants obscure the view of the local geology, but in places like southwest Utah you can see rocks in all directions.
But you don’t need to go to a famous national park to immerse yourself in what Mother Nature shows us. A simple pair of binoculars and a field guide to birds could add a rich dimension to your summer. Seize the day sometime this week and take a trip to a local park. You’ll be glad for the break from your ordinary routine and concerns.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.